Verizon, Netflix Stepping Up Battle To Blame Each Other For Poor Streaming Service

The heat of high summer is a great time to stay inside and marathon a million hours of TV. But for some Netflix customers who use Verizon as their ISP, the summer streaming season is a slow and choppy dud. Even though the two companies came to a paid peering arrangement earlier this year, service is still going from bad to worse. Netflix blames Verizon, Verizon blames Netflix, and while service is still cooling down, their very public fight is heating up.

Back in June, Netflix tried showing users a message blaming ISPs — specifically, Verizon — for their crappy connections to the service. Verizon shot back with a cease and desist, and not long afterward the messages stopped. (Netflix says the test was going to end June 16 anyway.) This week, Verizon went one step farther with a lengthy blog post about the “congestion myth.”

According to Verizon, the fault lies entirely with Netflix for moving so much traffic through third party carriers. These companies, says Verizon, are at fault for the poor peering arrangements that allow traffic to bottleneck and degrade. (Verizon had a public dispute over Netflix traffic with one of those carriers, Cogent, in 2013.)

“Netflix knew better,” Verizon chastises. According to Verizon, Verizon is the paragon of responsibility: “we regularly negotiate reasonable commercial arrangements with transit providers” to accommodate their traffic. That Netflix doesn’t work on Verizon is, says Verizon, entirely on Netflix, which is “fully capable of taking the necessary and customary steps” — that is, paying Verizon cash money — “to ensure that its connections match its traffic volumes.”

Verizon also wants us to be sure that this has nothing to do with the FCC’s current fast lane net neutrality proposal.

“We are working aggressively with Netflix to establish new, direct connections from Netflix to Verizon’s network,” says Verizon. They then explain that, “this doesn’t ‘prioritize’ Netflix traffic in any way, but it ensures that their traffic gets on our network through direct connections—not middleman networks—that are up to the task.”

Here’s the thing about that paid peering arrangement Verizon wants Netflix to work out with them, though: Netflix has been making agreements with major ISPs this year. Comcast and Time Warner Cable customers saw their Netflix service improve, almost like a light switch, after Netflix made agreements with those companies.

Netflix and Verizon came to an agreement in late April, but in Netflix’s most recent ISP data, FiOS customers are still having trouble connecting to the service.

In a statement to The Verge, Netflix turned Verizon’s own reasoning back onto the ISP.

“We’d like to thank Verizon for laying out the issue so nicely,” Netflix told The Verge. “Congestion at the interconnection point is controlled by ISPs like Verizon. When Verizon fails to upgrade those interconnections, consumers get a lousy experience despite paying for more than enough bandwidth to enjoy high-quality Netflix video. That’s why Netflix is calling for strong net neutrality that covers the interconnection needed for consumers to get the quality of INTER-net they pay for.”

Speaking with The Washington Post in an unrelated but well-timed interview, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings likened the peering interconnection fees for internet-based content to the retransmission fees companies pay for traditional content delivery.

“Then the danger is that it becomes like retransmission fees, which 20 years ago started as something little and today is huge, with blackouts and shutdowns during negotiations,” Hastings told the Post. “Conceptually, if they can charge a little, than they can charge a lot.”

And why can fees run away so much? That’s because of our old friend competition, or rather the complete absence of it.

And since ISPs get to set the terms, Hastings told the Post, businesses and consumers need regulation to keep everything working. “We think the right principle is that [ISPs] shouldn’t be charging, impeding, or favoring data,” Hastings said.

Later this year, we’ll find out if the FCC agrees. But in the short term, the best advice for Verizon subscribers who want to binge-watch Orange Is The New Black seems to be “get another ISP.” And that’s a choice many consumers simply don’t have.

Netflix CEO Q&A: Picking a fight with the Internet service providers [The Washington Post]
Why is Netflix Buffering? Dispelling the Congestion Myth [Verizon’s Policy Blog]

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